Special “representation” at the Carlisle Blue-Gray Reunion of 1881

Posted on May 10, 2016 by


Yesterday, an article (“South Dakota tribe seeks children’s century-old remains from War College site“)* popped up in my news feed which, ironically, followed some information I came across just last week regarding “Indian School” attendees at the Blue-Gray reunion at Carlisle, in September 1881. That reunion was actually the second in two months, the first having taken place in Luray, in July, 1881. The first reunion went so well that the Union veterans and citizens of Carlisle invited the Confederate veterans of Luray to Carlisle for a second reunion, in September, 1881. But that’s more a side story of the focus in today’s post.

Consider the following, which is only a brief portion of the account which appeared in the Staunton Spectator on October 4, 1881 (emphasis is my own):

On arriving at Carlisle they were received by Colwell Post and two G.A.R. Posts from Harrisburg, a local military company, four bands and the Indian School.

A procession was formed, the Grand Army Posts with their bands taking the lead; next came the excursionists, headed by the Stonewall Brigade Band of Staunton; then followed a long line of carriages containing invited guests of more of less distinction, and the ladies who came with the excursion, about fifty in number. The Indian boys and girls brought up the rear.

This novel and picturesque procession moved through the principal streets of the town and then entered the fair grounds. It was the occasion of the Cumberland County Fair and an Immense crowd of people thronged the streets of the beautiful Carlisle, a handsomely built city of about seven thousand inhabitants. It was remembered by many of the “ex-confeds” who had visited the place with Lee’s Army during the war, when the extensive Carlisle Barracks was destroyed by fire. These barracks are now occupied as a government School for the civilization and education of Indian children who attend there to the number of several hundred.

By time of the second Luray-Carlisle, Blue-Gray reunion of 1881, the Carlisle Indian Industrial School was just two months short of its second anniversary, and likely had a complement of students very similar to that identified with the first class. As of 1879, two-thirds of the students were children of Plains Indians tribal leaders; “…eighty-four Lakota, fifty-two Cheyenne, Kiowa, and Pawnee, and eleven Apache.”

Of the students present, it’s likely that two of the Oglala Lakota were Luther Standing Bear and Maggie Stands Looking. One was the son of a “traditional” Lakota warrior, while the other was the daughter of a Lakota who opposed Crazy Horse and enlisted as a scout in the U.S. Army.


Luther Standing Bear with his father George Standing Bear, at the Carlisle School, in 1880. George Standing Bear was a Brulé Lakota chief, from the Spotted Tail Agency, Rosebud, South Dakota.


Maggie Stands Looking with her father, American Horse (in center, with his hand on his daughter’s shoulder), at the Carlisle School, ca. 1882. American Horse might be considered an atypical Lakota, having opposed Crazy Horse, and later the Ghost Dance Movement of 1890.

When considering the presence of the Carlisle School’s students at the Blue-Gray reunion, and that it had only been five years since the fight at Little Big Horn, I can’t but help wonder about their “place” in the reunion of Civil War veterans. Was Carlisle simply proud of the new “showcase” additions to their town, or were they demonstrating pride in their progress in “civilizing” the children of the chiefs of the mighty Plains Indians who had defeated George Armstrong Custer? Was the display at the reunion following the philosophy of the founder of the school (Richard Henry Pratt), in that it was necessary to metaphorically “kill the Indian…to save the man”?

Interestingly, Pratt – a Union veteran (and later an officer with the Buffalo Soldiers of the 10th US Cavalry) – preferred “pragmatic and frequently brutal methods” for “civilizing” the “savages,” and made analogies to the education and “civilizing” of African-Americans:


For many years we greatly oppressed the black man, but the germ of human liberty remained among us and grew, until, in spite of our irregularities, there came from the lowest savagery into intelligent manhood and freedom among us more than seven millions of our population, who are to-day an element of industrial value with which we could not well dispense. However great this victory has been for us, we have not yet fully learned our lesson nor completed our work; nor will we have done so until there is throughout all of our communities the most unequivocal and complete acceptance of our own doctrines, both national and religious. Not until there shall be in every locality throughout the nation a supremacy of the Bible principle of the brotherhood of man and the fatherhood of God, and full obedience to the doctrine of our Declaration that “we hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created free and equal, with certain inalienable rights,” and of the clause in our Constitution which forbids that there shall be “any abridgment of the rights of citizens on account of race, color, or previous condition.” I leave off the last two words “of servitude,” because I want to be entirely and consistently American.

Inscrutable are the ways of Providence. Horrible as were the experiences of its introduction, and of slavery itself, there was concealed in them the greatest blessing that ever came to the Negro race—seven millions of blacks from cannibalism in darkest Africa to citizenship in free and enlightened America; not full, not complete citizenship, but possible—probable—citizenship, and on the highway and near to it.

There is a great lesson in this. The schools did not make them citizens, the schools did not teach them the language, nor make them industrious and self-supporting. Denied the right of schools, they became English-speaking and industrious through the influences of association. Scattered here and there, under the care and authority of individuals of the higher race, they learned self-support and something of citizenship, and so reached their present place. No other influence or force would have so speedily accomplished such a result. Left in Africa, surrounded by their fellow-savages, our seven millions of industrious black fellow-citizens would still be savages. Transferred into these new surroundings and experiences, behold the result. They became English-speaking and civilized, because forced into association with English-speaking and civilized people; became healthy and multiplied, because they were property; and industrious, because industry, which brings contentment and health, was a necessary quality to increase their value. [The complete transcript of Pratt’s speech, made by him at a convention in 1892, can be seen here, at History Matters].


Ca. 1881 collage of “Noted Indian Chiefs” which had visited the “Indian Training School” by that time.


*There are actually 186 Carlisle School students buried in the cemetery. Based on their death dates in 1882, I’m guessing that at least nine of those identified by names on their headstones [Alfred (Wichita), Hayes (Northern Arapahoe), Horace (Northern Arapahoe), Matavito Horse (Cheyenne), Henery Ouka (Apache), Kate Rosskidwits (Wichita), Launy Shorty (Piegan Blackfoot), William Snake (Panca/Ponca), and Louisa Thunder (Cheyenne] may have been present at the Luray-Carlisle Blue-Gray Reunion in Carlisle, in September 1881.



Update, May 13, 2016: The US Army has agree to pay for the disinterment and reburial of the remains of at least ten of the Carlisle Indian Industrial School